First Nations bands along the coast of B.C. have long assisted in rescue efforts in the territorial waters, now they’re official partners of the Canadian Coast Guard.
The Coastal Nations Coast Guard Auxiliary (CN-CGA) recently commenced on-water operations along B.C.’s coast in the territorial waters of Ahousaht and Heiltsuk First Nations while response units in Nisga’a, Gitxaala, and Kitasoo/Xai’xais territorial waters will soon begin operations.
It’s the first-ever Indigenous-led coast guard auxiliary in Canadian history.
“These are huge steps to build resiliency for those particular communities to be able to respond locally to any search and rescue or marine disaster and also to Canadians or travellers in need through their territorial waters,” said CN-CGA executive director, Conrad Cowan.
The Indigenous-led auxiliary is made up of more than 50 fully trained volunteers from the five First Nations that are situated along B.C.’s coastal waters — Ahousat, Heiltsuk, Gitxaala, Kitasoo and Nisgaa — and will support Canadian Coast Guard operations.
The federal government has also established emergency response units in each of the five first nations, which were strategically selected based on the number of search and rescue calls in their regions.
“It sends a powerful message to a lot of communities up and down the coast that we can and will continue to continue to protect the people in our territories,” said CN-CGA member Stephen Keitlah.
The CN-CGA is hoping to expand by almost double in the coming years, as they aim to keep those travelling along British Columbia’s coastal waters as safe as possible.
For the First Nations involved, it is an exciting moment.
“It’s a real big step in recognizing First Nations people and their roles that they play in responding to marine incidents,” said Heiltsuk Nation hereditary chief, Harvey Humchitt.